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By Force and Fear

Taking and Breaking Monastic Vows in Early Modern Europe

Anne Jacobson Schutte

Publication Year: 2011

An unwilling, desperate nun trapped in the cloister, unable to gain release: such is the image that endures today of monastic life in early modern Europe. In By Force and Fear, Anne Jacobson Schutte demonstrates that this and other common stereotypes of involuntary consignment to religious houses-shaped by literary sources such as Manzoni's The Betrothed-are badly off the mark.

Drawing on records of the Congregation of the Council, held in the Vatican Archive, Schutte examines nearly one thousand petitions for annulment of monastic vows submitted to the Pope and adjudicated by the Council during a 125-year period, from 1668 to 1793. She considers petitions from Roman Catholic regions across Europe and a few from Latin America and finds that, in about half these cases, the congregation reached a decision. Many women and a smaller proportion of men got what they asked for: decrees nullifying their monastic profession and releasing them from religious houses. Schutte also reaches important conclusions about relations between elders and offspring in early modern families. Contrary to the picture historians have painted of increasingly less patriarchal and more egalitarian families, she finds numerous instances of fathers, mothers, and other relatives (including older siblings) employing physical violence and psychological pressure to compel adolescents into "entering religion." Dramatic tales from the archives show that many victims of such violence remained so intimidated that they dared not petition the pope until the agents of force and fear had died, by which time they themselves were middle-aged. Schutte's innovative book will be of great interest to scholars of early modern Europe, especially those who work on religion, the Church, family, and gender.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

Illustrative Materials

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

...This book was born in Piazza Navona on a sunny January day more than ten years ago. In the final stages of completing another book and too frazzled to think concretely about a new topic needed for a grant application, I asked my lunch companion, Marina D’Amelia, for ideas about what to work on next. Off the top of her head, she replied...


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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xvi

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1. Forced Monachization, 1668–1793: An Overview

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pp. 1-22

...Sometime in the late 1750s or early 1760s, the Venetian painter Pietro Longhi executed the group portrait on the facing page. It depicts an elite family of six—husband and wife, three daughters, and a son—with two servants. Since Longhi had patrons in Verona, where the painting has apparently always been, the family may have lived in that...

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2. Literary and Historiographical Contexts

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pp. 23-51

...Over the past decade, when someone has asked what I was doing research on, I have replied, “Forced monachization.” “Oh, you’re working on nuns,” my interlocutor has invariably responded. “Not only on nuns,” I have retorted. Therein lies one of the arguments I intend to make in this book. To frame it, this chapter traces through imaginative...

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3. Elders and Forced Monachization

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pp. 52-88

...Having seen how forced monachization was characterized in literary and prescriptive writings, we now turn to the problem in real life. Almost always, close relatives, mainly those in previous generations, served as the primary agents of involuntary monachization. By employing physical and psychological intimidation, they forced adolescent...

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4. Waging Law in the Congregation of the Council

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pp. 89-129

...Judicial sources constitute the main evidentiary base of this book. Since most readers will instinctively think in terms of law in its Anglo-American version, the very different workings of the ecclesiastical court considered here require explanation. The SCC operated on the basis of canon law, which from the twelfth century on followed...

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5. Contracts and Fear in Monachization and Marriage

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pp. 130-158

...Many young people forced into convents and monasteries would strongly have preferred to remain in “the world” and wed. Some of them—most strikingly, the Savoyard Marianne Williel, whom we will encounter shortly—had already exchanged promises of marriage with their loved ones when shifting parental strategies thwarted their plans...

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6. Witnesses to Forced Monachization

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pp. 159-186

...Had involuntary monachization remained a closely held secret, known only to alleged perpetrators and their victims, determining whether or not it had occurred would have been very difficult. Restricted to dealing solely with statements by petitioners and those charged with forcing them into religious life (inevitably of the “he said, she said”...

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7. Degrees of Separation

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pp. 187-212

...If adolescents were willing in the first place to enter monastic life, or rapidly resigned themselves to doing so, placing them in religious houses presented few problems. When they expressed reluctance or outright aversion to doing so, relatives had to employ coercive techniques aimed at reducing them to obedience. These measures were designed to...

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8. War and Coerced Monachization

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pp. 213-234

...From 1668 to 1763, the first ninety-five years of our period, armed conflict involving European states was under way most of the time. Even when it was not, troops stationed near potential hot spots stood by in readiness for the next outbreak. Only in 1763, when the Peace of Paris brought the Seven Years’ War to a conclusion, did combat on land and...

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9. Continuity and Change in Forced Monachization

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pp. 235-264

...As noted earlier (chapter 3), forced monachization in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries requires a primarily synchronic treatment. Let me recapitulate what I have shown. From the 1660s to the early 1790s, parents and other relatives compelled adolescents in their families to enter religious life. Their main reason for doing so, preserving as...


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pp. 265-280


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pp. 281-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780801463174
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801449772

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 754715002
MUSE Marc Record: Download for By Force and Fear

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Vows -- History.
  • Profession (in religious orders, congregations, etc.) -- History.
  • Vows (Canon law).
  • Dispensations (Canon law).
  • Monastic and religious life -- Europe -- History.
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